Archive for the 'Fans' Category

25
Nov
10

Is Berbatov becoming a cause for concern?

Berbatov- desperately wanted for past crimes

Berbatov- desperately wanted for past crimes

” Dimitar Berbatov, one look at City and he said…..” well, you know the rest. Manchester United’s number nine has enjoyed the sort of Old Trafford career you’d associate with Andy Cole- before the treble.

Almost every United fan was pleased with his signing, especially after City tried to hijack the deal at the 11th hour, but some have since doubted the wisdom of it. The Bulgarian’s first season was a success- at least for the team- as United lifted an 18th League title and reached the final of the Champion’s League.

However even from early on in his United career, Berbatov had his detractors, his first season may have been successful in terms of what the team achieved but there were question marks raised as to whether he did enough personally. Part of the reason behind these doubts was his goalscoring record, Berbatov managed 14 goals in all competitions for United, which was seen a something of a disappointment especially as it was less than he’d managed the previous season with Spurs.

Another issue some United fans had with the new number 9 was his languid playing style, which in comparison to Wayne Rooney and a certain Argentinean gentleman, looked rather lazy.

These voices were in the minority though, as most United fans appreciated the different qualities Berbatov brought to the United side, his number of assists- nine in that first season- and the fact that the team achieved success which was the most important thing. There were also the flashes of brilliance the Bulgarian showed that only underlined what a special talent he was. A piece of skill against West Ham at Old Trafford was spoken about for months and I remember watching the game at Old Trafford against Hull, where Berbatov absolutely dominated the game, laying on chance after chance for his strike partners.

The real critics of Berbatov found their voices last season as with the departure of Carlos Tevez- go on then I’ll say his name, but only once- not to mention Cristiano Ronaldo, many hoped Berbatov would step it up a gear and form a successful partnership with Rooney. While Rooney went from strength to strength, Berbatov at times struggled, so much so that he was left out of the majority of big games as Sir Alex Ferguson preferred to use Rooney as a lone striker.

Part of the problem for Berbatov came from four main points:

1. A certain Argentinean couldn’t stop scoring at City and many saw the arrival of Berbatov as having led to his departure.

2. Rooney was a lot more energetic in every game, sometimes even running past Berbatov to chase balls the Bulgarian had lost.

3. Berbatov was seen by some as having not stepped up to the plate, to use an Americanism I promise never to use again, when Rooney was out injured at the end of the season.

4. United failed to win the League or emulate the previous two seasons successes in Europe.

For each of these points though, there’s a case to be made in defence of Berbatov.

1. Berbatov’s arrival had nothing to do with anyone leaving, if you don’t want to fight for your place then you shouldn’t be playing for United anyway. It was nonsense created to try and gain a modicum of sympathy from United fans, who were more than a tad disappointed someone would leave the club to got to ‘bitter’ rivals, for more money.

2. Wayne Rooney is a lot more energetic than almost any other striker on the planet and Berbatov has never been that sort of player anyway, you can’t expect a 28 year-old to suddenly change the entire way he plays football.

3. Berbatov did score twelve goals last season- a ratio of one in every two starts not a bad return and for some of them games Rooney was absent.

4. There were many reasons you could pin point on why United failed to win the League last season- seven defenders being out for Fulham away, poor decision by the linesman for the Chelsea home game, Burnley’s goalkeeper having the game of his life. To blame Berbatov would be shortsighted and unfair, it also doesn’t help  a striker when he’s in and out of the side and expected to single-handedly win League titles at the end of the season.

In the Summer it was widely expected that Berbatov would leave, but Fergie stuck with him and not only did he retire from International football to concentrate on his United career but he also looked good in pre-season, giving fans a bit of hope that he may finally have the sort if season no one can really criticise.

Following the 3-2 home win against Liverpool it seemed that Fergie’s faith had been more than well rewarded, in fact you’d be amazed that how many boys born the next few days in Manchester were called Dimitar. Berbtov’s hat-trick meant that he could join the likes of Diego Forlan of being guaranteed a place in the hearts of all of the Old Trafford faithful- no matter what he did from then on.

The problem is that since that game Berbatov hasn’t done much at all, in fact he’s put in, on one or two occasions, performances that have been almost shockingly bad. Again though, it must be noted that for every bad thing the Bulgarian does, there’s usually something good that follows it. Take the Spurs game for example, for me that was his worst performance in a United shirt arguably ever, yet only a few days later against City I thought he was excellent and didn’t get the credit he deserved.

People will always use Berbatov’s goalscoring record as proof of how he’s not been good enough at United, however he often brings more to the team than just scoring goals. His link up play with Nani this season has at times been mesmerising and he can keep hold of the ball and bring other players into the game as well as anyone at Old Trafford.

Although a striker’s job should always be primarily to score goals, the fact that no less than 17 United players have scored this season, should indicate just how much the goals are being spread around the team and Berbatov is part of the reason for this. One of the reason’s United failed to win the main honours last season was an over-reliance on Wayne Rooney and this seems to have more than been addressed.

However despite the obvious positives Berbatov has of late, there are certain things which can not be ignored. No goals in ten games is not good enough despite the fact others are scoring. The main problem seems to be Berbatov’s attitude and demeanour, for the game against Rangers he at times looked frustrated and at other times almost disinterested.

One of my main criticisms of Berbatov since he arrived at Old Trafford is the way he can snap at some of the younger players. I remember him berating Kiko Macheda last season for an errant pass and feeling a  bit disappointed. After all shouting at 19 year-old’s is hardly going to help them. Last night against Rangers Berbatov was at it again waving his arms about and shouting at others, when maybe he should have been looking a little closer to home at why he was getting no real joy.

I’m still a big fan of the Bulgarian and think United do need him if they are to achieve success, but he needs to regain his form sooner rather than later if he doesn’t want to be forced into a supporting role. With Rooney back from injury and Chicharito already proving he’s not going to take time to find his feet, Berbatov may struggle to find a regular place in the first team.

With Michael Carrick seemingly back in Fergie’s good graces, then it wouldn’t be too surprising if the United manager reverted back to the 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation he preferred for the big games last season, and that could leave Berbatov warming the bench.

If Berbatov really is to be considered a success at United, now’s the time for the number 9 to truly prove his worth.

13
Nov
10

Five things we learnt from the game against Villa

Vidic- was he pushed or did he jump?

Vidic- was he pushed or did he jump?

In the words of Morrissey ‘stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before,’ United draw away from home, dropping valuable points and leaving Chelsea rubbing their hands in glee-that’s happiness not the annoying American singing show.

United’s away form has gone from causing concern, to being a real worry, to now almost being accepted as inevitable. Saturday’s early kick-off, after all a three o’clock start for the Reds is even rarer than an away victory, was yet another disappointing example of mediocrity.

A sixth away draw from seven is quite frankly abysmal and while the glass half full types will point to a 25 match unbeaten run, and the longest start to  a premier league campaign without defeat for United in eleven years- there is no denying that 12 dropped points at this stage isn’t good enough.

The game against Aston Villa, may have been a case of a point won for United as they were two goals down with less than ten minutes to play, but the Reds’ comeback was only necessary after what was 80 odd minutes of the worst performance by a United team in recent memory.

So what did we learn from the Villa game other than the difference between jumping into the crowd and being pushed, oh and Darren Fletcher is no so well known he no longer needs a name and number on his shirt?

Here’s five things I fathomed from United’s trip to the Midlands.

1. It’s time for the midfield to step out of Scholes’ shadow.
I wrote before the Villa game that I felt that Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher needed to show that they could offer some creativity in the absence of Paul Scholes. To say I couldn’t have been more disappointed would be an understatement. I know neither player is renowned for their attacking prowess but the fact remains both are capable of doing more than tackling -Fletcher- or passing it sideways -Carrick- yet that was all either offered for most of the game.
I’m a big fan of both players but when Scholes is unavailable one of them needs to take a bit responsibility, Saturday just wasn’t good enough and if things don’t improve then Fergie has to get his cheque book out or recall Tom Cleverley.

2. Nani is a livewire that United need. Against City Nani was poor and for much of the game against Villa he wasn’t much better but still managed to come up with a superb cross for Nemanja Vidic’s equaliser. It may not have made up for 85 minutes of rubbishness but he’s one of the few match winners United have at their disposal. He may at times be one of the most frustrating players ever to wear a United shirt but as he’s proven time and again this season, the ridiculous is often followed by the sublime. With Antonio Valencia out of the next few months, United will just have to suffer the torment of the Nani show.

3. Time to throw caution to the wind in these away games. Had United lost three and won three of the six drawn games then they’d obviously have been three points better off. Although by the end of the Villa game United were the far more attacking side, it was obvious after an hour in that it just wasn’t working.

Against City Sir Alex Ferguson decided to bring off Berbatov for Chicharito, against Villa he brought off both for the pair of Gabriel Obertan and Kiko Macheda. It’s time to start going for these games earlier. Leaving at least two strikers and two out and out wingers would have been a start. Chicharito hadn’t been  getting much joy but may have benefited from having Obertan trying to whip some crosses in for him and Macheda alongside him. Fergie could have left Berbatov on and taken off Park who was obviously struggling. Whatever the scenario, seeing Chris Smalling playing upfront was as bemusing as it was embarrassing and should simply not be happening in a United side.

4. Berbatov is not to blame for all United’s woes but his form is worrying. I’m a big believer that Berbatov was a good signing for United, that he does exactly what it says on the tin and that he should not have been sold in the Summer. As long as I live and breathe I defend any man who scores a hat-trick against the dippers. Even without those three goals I’ve long admired Berbatov and think that any suggestion  United should not have signed him and instead tried to keep Carlos Tevez, is flawed on many levels.
That said, the Bulgarian’s form cannot be ignored, no goals in eight games for a United striker is a worry and even though I know he brings more to the team than just goals- and was bought for such- it cannot be ignored. Berbatov seems to suffer from fluctuating confidence and against Villa he seemed, as did many of the United team, well off the pace. The problem for Berbatov, is that while nearly all the United team underperformed his poor showing is often highlighted by some fans and certain sections of the media who cannot wait to chastise him.

Berbatov’s performance against Spurs was one of his worst in a United shirt but I felt he was much better against City, however against Villa, the fact that he missed what was really a golden opportunity in the first half, will only add fuel to his detractors fire. He may benefit from having Rooney alongside him but he needs to realise his positives and try and get his mojo back before the fans he has won over, desert him again.

5. The missing player excuses have got to stop. Rooney, Valencia, Giggs, Scholes, Hargreaves or whoever may be missing but so what?! Villa were playing with a bunch of names I’d never pretend to have heard of, Hogg-wonder if he‘s related to Graeme, Bannan, Albrighton- okay I knew the last one. The point it is, Villa were well under strength and that shouldn’t matter anyway. Any players in the United squad should be good enough to do a job against the likes of Villa and on Saturday too many players just weren’t good enough. Had Villa’s second goal been indicative of the afternoon- United pressing and getting caught on the counter- I could have understood it, but it wasn’t.

United were poor throughout the team, admittedly certain players looked below fitness, Patrice Evra seemed to be struggling and Ji Sung Park look absolutely knackered, but if that’s the case then others should be stepping up. United have won the League over the years because they always gone at teams no matter who’s playing, there’s always been that United belief and pride, and I hate to say it but on Saturday for 80 minutes or more only one team really wanted it.

25
Oct
10

Five things we learnt from United v Stoke

If you are going to do that, just make sure you sign your next contract

If you are going to do that, just make sure you sign your next contract

A week that was gearing up to be one of the darkest in United’s recent history ended on a high as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men finally picked up an away win at The Britannia.
Whereas all the midweek talk had been surrounding an ambitious striker, by Sunday afternoon the only thoughts on anyone’s mind were of Chicharito and his well taken brace.
All of a sudden things are looking decidedly rosy for United, third in the league and still unbeaten, it seems the prophets of doom warning of the ‘beginning of the end’ for Fergie’s evil empire, may have been a little premature.

Of course, a win at Stoke doesn’t suddenly make everything perfect but unlike previous away games the positives far outweighed the negatives as United bagged three points in a high-octane match.

So what did Sunday’s game tell us other than Gary Neville still needs to protected from his own enthusiasm –or stupidity depending on your viewpoint- and if you’re going to invade the pitch then perhaps longer studs is a good idea?

Here’s five things we learnt from United’s match.

1. Wayne Rooney may struggle to get back in the team. Chicharito’s two goals, cemented what is already a glowing reputation as one of the best young strikers in world football. The first one a speculative back header was a real ‘ticket and raffle’ type of goal that caused as many laughs as it did cheers. The second one, a real poacher’s type of finish was the sort you’d associate with a young Michael Owen and showed that Chicharito may be young but his positional sense is already there. Dimitar Berbatov may not have got on the score sheet, he’s not found the net since that wonderful hat-trick against Liverpool, but his touches and link up play with both Chicharito and Nani were excellent. If the trio of Nani Berbatov and Chicharito continue to perform so well together then Rooney may have a real fight on his hands to get his place back.

2. Patrice Evra is looking back to his best. The signs were there against Bursaspor that the former French Captain may finally be putting his world cup angst behind him. Against Stoke he had arguably his best game of the season, revelling in his left wing role and giving the opposition defence no end of trouble. On another day Evra would have had a penalty, but regardless of the lack of favours he got from the officials, he still managed to show everyone just why he’s still one of the best players in the world. If United are going to win the title then they need Evra to continue the superb form he’s shown over the last four seasons and if the game against Stoke was anything to go by, he could well be on his way to doing just that.

3. Paul Scholes can’t do it all. It was a wayward Scholes’ pass that led to Stoke’s goal and while that’s about as rare as a decent Fergie goal celebration, it merely highlighted that the ginger prince is human after all. Scholes had a bad day at the office but if anyone’s entitled to one this season, then it’s him. Scholes wasn’t the only one guilty of a few errant passes; John O’Shea had a period where he actually seemed to forget which team he was on.

If there was one slightly worrying thing from Scholes’ poor showing it was that no one seemed able in the United midfield to take on the mantle from him and it should be noted that despite it not being his best game Scholes still seemed the only midfielder capable of, or willing to, pass the ball more than ten yards.

4. Wes Brown needs to play more often. The right back position for United has been somewhat problematic this season to say the least with no less than four players featuring there at one point or another. Gary Neville making his 600th United appearance, so well done him, was the surprise choice for this game. After it became abundantly clear that Neville was destined to get sent off in the second half, following a booking then a blatantly bookable offence that went un-carded, Neville was subbed just after the break- literally.

In the 45 minutes that followed, Wes Brown put in the sort of performance that’s been missing from United’s right back position all season. Brown was comfortable on the ball, got forward well and did his usual share of tackling. It wasn’t an amazing barnstorming display set to get the pulses racing; it was simply a good shift. However as we’ve seen far too often at United this season, ‘good shifts’ at right back have been few and far between. Rafael Da Silva has come in and done a good job but at times looked shaky, while in the interests of my own pulse rate I’m not even going to get started on O’Shea. With a game against Spurs coming up, the thought of O’Shea being asked to deal with Gareth Bale gives me nightmares.

There’s been talk of something of a tiff between Brown and Fergie, due to one too many shandies and a bit of holiday banter that went too far. If Fergie can forgive and forget though, again, then Brown back in the starting XI would be just what United needed.

5. Rio and Vidic are still the best in the business. If you honestly gave me the choice of any central defenders from world football, in the United line up, I’d still pick Ferdinand and Vidic. Sunday’s performance showed just how much United have missed the infamous ‘merker’ alongside his newly appointed skipper, as they both absolutely dominated poor Kenwyne Jones. Okay so dominating Kenwyne Jones, does not make you the best central defensive partnership in world football, in fact you could argue that it just makes you tall. However, there can be no denying that both defenders were superb throughout, not just with their heading and tackling but also on the ball. Neither could be faulted for Tuncay’s stunning goal and everything that came their way was dealt with decisively. If Rio can stay fit and admittedly that’s a big ‘if’ then United have a decent chance of catching Chelsea.

22
Oct
10

Why United should go all out to keep Wayne Rooney

Rooney realises he's just posted his new address on facebook

Rooney realises he's just posted his new address on facebook

He’s overrated, he’s a flat-track bully, he’s not been playing well for months anyway, he’s not scored a screamer in years, with the money we’ll get we can rebuild half the team, he’s only had one prolific season, he’s scouse.

The reasons why Wayne Rooney’s departure wouldn’t be such a bad thing have been doing the rounds among Manchester United fans ever since Sir Alex Ferguson revealed the stunning news on Tuesday.

It seems last season’s top scorer and a player who only a few days ago was revered as United’s talisman and one destined to join the holy ranks of the likes of George Best, Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Eric Cantona, as a true United legend, is now a useless, overweight, waste of space. A man who’s greed for money is matched only by his greed for pies and who would actually be doing United a massive favour by leaving at the earliest juncture, to give the Reds the maximum profit and allow Dimitar Berbatov and Paul Scholes to carry on leading the team.

Well despite trying my hardest to convince myself that Rooney leaving Old Trafford is not such a bad thing, I’m sorry but I’ve failed miserably and am now in fact more convinced than ever of the need for United to try and keep him. Although it looks highly unlikely, especially considering the actions of the hate mob who surrounded his house last night issuing death threats and acting like total morons, I for one think if there’s any chance of keeping Rooney, United should do whatever it takes.

It actually amazes me that people seem to think the loss of Rooney would not be that much of a disaster for United, that bigger and better players have left and United have always bounced back and will do once more.

Well let me make one thing clear, United with or without Rooney, will survive of that there is no doubt. United have survived the worst disaster imaginable only to come back stronger. United have gone over a quarter of a century without a title only to win 11 in 18 years and have seen countless players leave for ‘greener pastures’- possibly with cows in them- only to cast an envious eye over at Old Trafford as their former colleagues go from triumph to triumph.

Manchester United will always be one of the world’s biggest clubs, without or without Wayne Rooney. However my problem isn’t for the long-term prospects of the club as a whole- although I like every other United fan have more than a concern about the Glazer situation, my worry is can United afford to lose their best player and still challenge in the short-term? If Rooney goes then United won’t just be missing a player who’s gone from unsung selfless grafter in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo to prolific leader over the space of 12 months, they’ll be losing one of the few true superstars in world football.

It’s easy to use Rooney’s form as an excuse for him not being missed but as is often said ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ and Rooney will without a doubt come out of the barren spell he’s wallowing in, with venom, sooner or later.

Last season United missed out on the Premier League title by two points- okay it was one and goal difference but you know what I mean- and had Rooney stayed fit towards the end, then the title would no doubt have been staying at Old Trafford.

Ditto the Champion’s League, if it wasn’t for the injury Rooney picked up in Munich, it’s safe to say United would have been facing Internazionale in the final, after all the semi’s against Lyon would hardly have been a major task. Rooney was immense last season and actually improved on the superb player he’d been in the previous two seasons.

There’s no reason why once he gets over the poor form and lack of full fitness that’s been dogging him since that seminal night in Munich, that Rooney can’t go on to get even better. After all at only 24 years of age he’s five years away from his peak and there is no end to just how good he could become.

I know as a United fan this is a very risky statement, as if Rooney joins City I’ll be forced to stand by it to the City fans I know who’ll be rubbing it back in my face, but I’ve got to be totally honest and say I believe Rooney is an exceptional talent that would walk into any team.

What’s going on behind closed doors between United and Rooney is anyone’s guess, but with the club’s statement of ‘no real developments’ and the drama of the United hate mob laying siege to his house, then the likelihood is that Rooney’s almost certain to leave.
If there is a slim chance that Fergie, David Gill or whoever can convince Rooney to stay then they should definitely take it. I know there’s a lot of anger at the way Rooney has acted and I’m thinking of selling Paul Stretford voodoo dolls at the next United home game, but if a bit of pride can be swallowed and a deal reached then I’m praying United make it.

In the past when big players have left such Paul Ince, Mark Hughes, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, David Beckham, and Kleberson, United have simply found new ones to replace them usually through the youth system or the young signings. I think the same could definitely happen again if Rooney left. Kiko Macheda, Chicharito and Danny Welbeck could all have bright futures at United but I can’t see them leading a title charge for at least another two seasons.

The worrying thing about Rooney leaving is that, Fergie may only have three or four seasons left in him at United and if this is a similar situation to 2003/04 where the rebuilding process began and took three years, then by the time it’s done he may be ready to retire. Call me a sceptic but I think there’s far too much deadweight in the United squad at the moment- I’ll leave the names for another blog, and losing Rooney may be the start of a massive overhaul that could take a while.

Let’s not forget that three of United’s most experienced and important players are not going to be around in two season’s time. Rooney is the type of player you can build a team around and despite the money United may get for him, who can they buy that’s in a similar class?

United will go on whether Rooney’s leading the attack or someone else, but there’s no doubt that with him in the team the future would look a hell of a lot brighter.

13
Oct
10

Surely Owen would have been a better option for Capello

Michael Owen shows "Ze Germans" how its done

Michael Owen shows "Ze Germans" how its done

To be brutally honest Michael Owen is not my favourite Manchester United player, I appreciate the effort he puts in and like every other United fan duly went mad in the 4-3.

However with the young strikers Sir Alex Ferguson has at his disposal, this season I’ve questioned whether United really need the former Liverpool hero.

There’s no doubt Owen can still do a good job, my argument was that with the likes of Kiko Macheda and Chicharito available as back-up to the front two of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov, did United really need a striker who’ll be 31 in December and has had more than is fair share of injury problems.

I’ve already been pretty much proven wrong as Owen’s brace in the League Cup away at Scunthorpe and more importantly his equaliser at Bolton justified Fergie sticking with him, at least until January.

There’s also the point that having an experienced finisher like Owen in the squad can only be beneficial to the young strikers, who can maybe learn a thing or two from him. After all in a career that’s taken in two of the top clubs in Europe- as well as Liverpool and Newcastle, plus a host of international caps, Owen has always delivered goals and is perhaps the ideal player for someone like Chicharito to learn from.

Despite not being Michael Owen’s biggest fan, even I had to admit being totally dumfounded by his omission from the recent England squad. It’s not that Owen has exactly been a regular for Manchester United this season but surely a player with 40 England goals would have been handy to at least have on the bench.

When it comes to not getting regular football, Owen has started only two games this season, a reason Capello has bandied about for not picking players in the past, we all know that’s poppycock- if you pardon my French.

The nadir of my time as an England fan was watching Emile Heskey take to the field in Bloemfontein as Germany soared into a three goal lead. Heskey had been a substitute more times than he’d started for Aston Villa that season- don’t get me started on how many goals he’d managed- yet found himself playing for the national side at the biggest tournament there is.

Capello’s ‘if you’re not playing regularly for your club, you won’t play for your country’ line just doesn’t ring true. This season Shaun Wright Phillips has figured in less games for Manchester City than Owen has for United, yet the tiny winger still found himself coming off the bench against Montenegro.

I was actually hoping Wayne Rooney might not figure against Montenegro, I thought he should have a few more days off before the game against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday. There seems to be this constant cycle of Rooney having a slight knock coming back and not looking right that’s been going on for months. I advocated a couple of full weeks off following his latest ‘slight injury’ and rather foolishly thought England could afford to rest him, against despite what all the England propaganda machine will tell us, should have been a relatively easy side to beat.

However with injuries to Darren Bent and Jermaine Defoe Rooney was about as likely to be rested as Robert Green was to have been picked to start.

The news that the ‘people’s elbow’ Kevin Davies was in the squad made Rooney’s selection seemed more assured. After all if Wazza wasn’t starting then the front two would have been Davies and Crouch and despite Crouch’s goal tally in an England shirt, Capello seems to have a lack of faith in him.

It was the sight of 33 year-old Davies making his debut as England looked for a winning goal that caused me the most confusion since I flicked over to the X-factor on Saturday and saw a Jimmy Saville look-a-like playing a set of bongo drums.

What on earth is going on?! Why would someone who’s fourth in the all-time England goal scoring charts and still deemed good enough to play Champion’s League football, not be at least given a small chance over a player who’s never played, let alone scored for England?

It seems Owen just isn’t on Capello’s radar which is a shame for both him and England because as last night’s bore draw showed- how many shots on target did England muster?- he could have been useful.

In the past Capello has shown he is willing to swallow his pride and bring formerly exiled players back into the fray if he needs them, as he did with David Beckham at Real Madrid.

While it’s hardly time to start panicking the fact is poor performances against mediocre opposition just aren’t good enough for many fans who spend a lot of money following England. If Capello wants to give himself the best chance in qualifying smoothly maybe turning to Owen wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

24
Sep
10

Why the League Cup still matters

Rooney had to explain what was in his hands to City fans

Rooney had to explain what was in his hands to City fans

Following the third round of League Cup upsets, there’s been a lot of noise being made by sets of fans that the competition is either ‘irrelevant’ ‘unimportant’ or a mere ‘distraction’.

While there may be a semblance of truth to all three of those points there is no denying that for a lot of fans watching our team play in any competition is never ‘unimportant’ otherwise why would we spend our money to do it?

Of course not every fan bothers to buy tickets for the Carling Cup but there are still many that do, not to mention those that travel to glamorous places such as Brentford and Scunthorpe to watch what may actually be a reserve side compete in the competition.

The League Cup has always held a special place in my heart- not because it’s the most glamorous trophy to win but because one of my fondest football memories has been from the competition.

I can remember way back in 1990 when my Dad took me to Old Trafford to see United face Liverpool in the then Rumbelows Cup. Liverpool were the League Champions and had been busy dominating English football for the past 15 years while United despite winning the FA cup the previous season had struggled under Sir Alex Ferguson.

United won 3-1 and I can vividly recall Mark Hughes sending a 25-yard screamer over Bruce Grobbelaar’s head- you couldn’t tell the Old Trafford crowd that night that the competition was ’irrelevant.’

I also recall my first Wembley final in 1994 where I saw Aston Villa beat United 3-1 and feeling absolutely gutted , there was no ‘treble’ and I actually worried that I may be a Wembley final ‘jinx.’

Admittedly the is not the top of everyone’s wish list, I’m pretty sure most kids don’t run around the playground dreaming of scoring the winning goal in the Carling Cup final. When I saw United beat Spurs on penalties in the final a couple if years ago, I remember the feeling of anti-climax once Anderson scored the winner. It was like ‘nice 1 we’ve just won the Carling Cup’ rather than any Moscow-type euphoria.

However the League Cup is still a major trophy, there’s still a trip to Wembley and can lead to Europe for the winners that haven’t qualified through other means. Going back a few season’s Spurs’ win over Chelsea in the Carling Cup final may actually have been bigger than most people thought at the time. Had Chelsea won it may have given them and Avram Grant a bit of momentum to move forward and take the League and even the CL. I know it sounds little far-fetched that a Carling Cup victory can reverberate so much but following the defeat to Spurs, there was a lot of negative talk about how Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka can’t play together, Jose Mourinho never lost a final, etc.

Go back a couple of more seasons and anyone who recalls the melee between Chelsea and Arsenal players in the final which saw everyone’s favourite striker Emmanuel Adebayor sent off -as well as Kolo Toure and Jon Obi Mikel – can’t have thought the competition wasn’t being taken seriously.

Last season saw Manchester’s two teams battle it out in the semi-final and there was a lot more to play for than just local pride. Roberto Mancini had made it clear he wanted to rip down the banner at Old Trafford that says ’34 years’  in reference to the last time City won a major trophy. Then there was rent-a-gob Gary Cook’s comments to a New York, Manchester City supporters club about how City were going to win and it would be the first of many etc.

Both legs were played out in front of an electric atmosphere and it can’t be said that either side took the game lightly. Fergie even chose to appeal Rio Ferdinand’s ban for his elbow on that other rent-a-gob Craig Fagan , so he could play in the second leg- despite knowing it would surely increase his ban. Wayne Rooney’s last-minute goal to send United through to the final and make City wait at least one more year to rip down the banner, sent Old Trafford into rapture. No-one was calling the competition a ‘distraction’ then.

Like City, Arsenal have come in for criticism, well Arsene Wenger has, for failing to deliver a trophy in the past five years. A League Cup win would hardly rank as the most glorious of triumphs but it would still be a trophy that could silence a few over zealous critics.

This season we’ve already seen the likes of Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool, Everton and Man City depart the competition and while all five teams certainly do have bigger priorities, I imagine any of them would have liked to have won it.

Despite the noises I’m hearing from a lot of Spurs fans following Arsenal’s recent victory at White Hart Lane about how it doesn’t matter because Spurs have  bigger things like the Champion’s League to concentrate on, I’m sorry but for the Gooners it must still be a memorable victory. Beating your derby rivals in their own back yard is always satisfying no matter what the occasion.

For some of the mid-table or so-called ‘lesser’ teams the League Cup has been the scene of their biggest success. Sides like Swindon, Norwich, Oxford, Luton, Leicester and more recently Middlesbrough would no doubt count League Cup final wins as a major part of their history.

While for a lot of the top teams the League Cup, especially the early rounds, will always be a chance to give the fringe members of the squad a game, even they have brought out the big guns for the latter stages.
Last season United brought Wayne Rooney off the bench to replace an injured Michael Owen, while the season before Cristiano Ronaldo was in United’s starting XI for the final.

Over the past few years we’ve even heard suggestions from certain sections of the press, fans or even clubs that the competition should be abolished, that no-one really cares anymore and it’s a drain on resources.

However the point I’m making is that despite it being one of the least important competitions it still matters. It can still throw up exciting ties, amazing upsets and plenty of drama. There’s also the younger players at some of the bigger clubs who only get a chance to turn out for the first team in  the Carling Cup, for them it’s a chance to show their worth to the manager.

For many teams it’s not a ‘distraction’ but a chance to take a trip to a ground they’ve only seen on the telly. The latest round of League Cup games highlighted that the competition still has a lot to offer, now if United had lost at Scunthorpe then that would have been another matter…..

16
Sep
10

Always look on the bright side of life

Anderson found scouse humour somewhat strange

Anderson found scouse humour somewhat strange

It’s been a somewhat disappointing start to the season for Manchester United, with last-minute goals conceded, a season-ending injury to a star player and former big issue sellers –rather than German superstars -joining the club.  

However while missing out on Mesut Ozil, and being a few minutes away from a perfect league start is annoying it is far from the end of the season- unfortunately the same can’t be said for Antonio Valencia.  No amount of optimism or sugar-coating will hide the fact that the Ecuadorian’s injury is a massive blow to United as he was one of the shining stars in last-season’s campaign.

I’ve still not been able to bring myself to watch it on television- I was sat near enough when it happened to see all I want to of that horrific injury and the reaction of the Ranger’s players said it all.

My main concern with Valencia is not whether we see him this season but that he’s able to re-capture the form he showed last season and this isn’t a Neil Webb –ask your dad- type injury that robs him of a lot of talent.

The feeling around United following the non-event that was a goalless draw against far inferior opposition is that the start to the season has been something of a letdown with needless points dropped, Wayne Rooney making the news for all the wrong reasons, not to mention the –still- ongoing saga of United’s number four.  Some fans –including me- are beginning to resemble the cast of Eastenders, looking ready to burst into fits of rage or just sink into a mood of melancholy at the drop of any more points.

While Owen  Hargreaves is looking about as likely to play for United again as Carlos Tevez, the squad at Old Trafford still has enough quality to challenge for major honours- at least in theory.

The names Rafael Van Der Vaart, Tom Cleverley and Ozil have been spoken about more in the past few days by many United fans and while any of those three would be useful to the squad there’s still a wealth of talent available.

Anderson and  Michael Carrick have yet to really figure this season and both players know that this could be their last season at Old Trafford if they don’t step up their game. While I’ve been critical of both players in the past, I still think they’ve got enough talent to play a big part and hopefully they will.

When it comes to the points United have dropped- and believe me I was as frustrated as anyone at the final whistle of both away games- it’s still not as bad as it may seem.

Chelsea of course have gotten off to a flier but considering their form at the back end of last season and the fixtures they faced can anyone have expected anything less?  

The likes of Wigan, WBA, Stoke and West Ham are the sort of games Carlo Ancelotti would probably have chosen as his first four of the season if he had the choice. Now I’m not getting into any conspiracy theory here that Chelsea have deliberately been given an easy ride but let’s face facts no one can really have expected the Champions to drop points against those teams.

United’s two away fixtures have been  more difficult than any games Chelsea have had so far this season and while the manner of the draws is frustrating there’s still a chance that Ancelotti’s men may return from both grounds with less than maximum points.

It must also be remembered that from the corresponding fixtures last season, United took no points whatsoever, so it’s not all doom and gloom just yet.

While the draw with Rangers was without a doubt one of the most boring 90 minutes I’ve witnessed since England took on the titans from Algeria it’s still need to be put into perspective. Yes, Sir  Alex Ferguson should not have changed ten of his players from the previous game and yes that is the sort of match where the term ‘banker’ could not be more apt- unless applied to someone who works in a bank of course- but you’d still expect United to top their group.

Going to places like Valencia, Glasgow and anywhere in Turkey is never easy for teams but they’re hardly the cream of Europe and quite frankly if Fergie’s men can’t get a result from those games then the Champion’s League is beyond them anyway.  I fully expect Fergie to realise the limits of which players he can and cannot leave out- he’s already admitted as much about Dimitar Berbatov – and play a much stronger side in the remaining games.

When it comes to Rooney- although his performance against Rangers was subdued- he’s shown enough in the game against West Ham and for England that he’s putting his World Cup and subsequent  ladies of the night debacle behind him and getting back –slowly- to being the striker we all know he is.

Fortunately for Wazza unlike last season, this time round he actually has a world-class partner who’s playing like he is actually world –class so it’s not all up to him to provide United’s goals.  Berbatov’s start to the season- while far from perfect has been a massive improvement on last term and he’s looking sharp.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, United lost the title last season not due to defensive frailties but simply because of an over-reliance on Rooney- Chelsea had Frank Lampard to lighten Didier Drogba’s goal load- who did United have?- other than possibly ‘own goals.’

If Berbatov can hit 20 goals this season then United stand a good chance of seeing the title return to the ‘Theatre of Dreams.’

The main worry defensively is the recent penchant for conceding late goals, what united need is a world-class defender with bags of experience who can help steady the ship, oh erm hang on. The return of Rio Ferdinand is exactly what’s needed and if he can stay fit then the one really worrying factor of United’s play this season could be resolved.

Even the Valencia injury may not be season-ending with recent reports indicating he could play a part at the back end of the season.  There’s also Gabriel Obertan to return who may well rise to the challenge of filling one of last season’s members of the PFA team of the year’s boots. Obertan has show signs in the reserves that he’s the real deal- now’s his chance to prove it.  

The point I’m making is that while it’s not been the start many United fans were hoping for, it’s far from the disaster certain people- including those in the press who love to see United fail- would have us believe.

What United could really do with is a home game against an arch-rival who are really struggling, to get the mood and confidence buzzing around Old Trafford again. If only we had a game like that coming up……………

06
Sep
10

Premier league ‘cult hero’ XI

David May- rightly takes the applause after single-handedly winning the treble

David May- rightly takes the applause after single-handedly winning the treble

Following on from the most hated xi which seemed to upset almost everyone that read it is another team but this time made up of some of our favourite cult heroes.

The first question is ‘what is a cult hero?’ Well for starters, here’s what it isn’t- a truly great player that’s admired by everyone both inside and outside his club. Someone like Eric Cantona could never be a ‘cult hero’ because all United fans love him while fans from other clubs may at least have a grudging respect- I stress the word ‘may’ and obviously Crystal Palace fans are not among them.

No, a cult hero is the sort of player that not all fans love but the ones who do, adore with a passion. They’re the players that many of the opposition fans hate, or the strikers who’ve turned out for you team and scored one goal in twenty games which happens to be a winner against your arch-rivals. They’re sometimes the comical figures that we love to hate, the panto villain types that a core of us actually admire.

Then there’s that other type of cult hero, the genuine, decent talented player that for some reason never gets the respect of admiration of the mainstream media, so its left up to us fans to let the world know just how great they are. Cult heroes more often than not play the game we imagine the way we would for our club- what they lack in skill they make up for in effort, never giving up and always leaving the pitch having given 100%.

Most of these players may only play a handful of games for your club, others may be there for their for slightly longer, but they will always be admired for making supporting our team that little bit better. All of the players have played in the Premier League but some made their ‘cult hero’ status assured in Division One.

Goalkeeper – Les Sealey RIP “Sealey!” “Sealey!” “Sealey!” Could be heard from the stands at Old Trafford every Saturday- before ‘Super Sunday’ became compulsory for Manchester United- in the early nineties. What made the chant even more surprising was the fact that Sealey was merely an unused substitute for practically every game following the arrival of Peter Schmeichel. So why was he so popular with United fans- arguably more so than Great Dane. Well his first appearance had brought the FA Cup -at a time when United rated it- then there was his temper tantrum throwing in the Cup Winner’s Cup final when clearly injured he refused to leave the field. There were even stories of him threatening away fans who gave him stick during his warm-up. Sealey was a serious man and he may not have been the best of goalkeepers to stand between the Old Trafford sticks but he was definitely one of the most loved. News of his death from cancer left even the hardest of Stretford Enders with a lump in their throats. Sadly missed.

Left back- Julian Dicks -Arguably more fearsome than that other left backing ‘psycho’ Stuart Pearce, Dicks was the sort of player who could cause right wingers to feign injury before the game kicked off. A fearsome man who if he said it was Tuesday it was Tuesday but could also play a bit. Dicks scored an impressive amount of goals for a left back including 10 in the 95-96 season. Dicks may have accumulated almost as many red cards as he did goals at times, but he’s the sort of player that fans love, hard as nails, gets stuck in and and never gives up. Although his big money move to Liverpool didn’t work out and he never really threatened to break into the England team, there’s a lot of love for him in East London- as well as probably a lot of fear everywhere else.

Right back- Roland Nilsson– According to the Sheffield Wednesday chant numbers one to eleven were Roland Nilsson. Sometimes quietly going about your job in a consistent and unassuming manner gets you a mild respect but at Hillsborough it makes you a legend. While Nilsson is hardly likely to spring to the mind of most fans when naming the best foreigners to play in the Premiership, at Sheffield Wednesday he’ll always be top of the list. The Swedish international was a regular during the team’s ‘glory days’ of the early nineties which saw top five finishes and trips to cup finals as part of the norm. Men like Chris Waddle and David Hirst may have got the headlines, but no Wednesday player got as much affection from many of the fans as Nilsson. His managerial stint at Coventry was far less successful and his name certainly isn’t sung there. At Wednesday however he remains a cult hero.

Centre back- Brian “Killer” Kilcline– Although his only Premiership experience was playing for doomed Swindon, Kilcline makes this team for his time at St James’s Park. Kevin Keegan arrived at Newcastle with the team languishing near the bottom of the second tier and made the former Coventry hard-man his first signing. Never likely to trouble the England manager he did trouble opposing strikers who found the tough nut willing to stick his head in where most people would stick their boot. There have been may heroes at Newcastle and while men such as Shearer, and Macdonald may spring to mind as fan’s favourites there’s a core section who still thank ‘Killer’ for helping save the club from a trip to the third tier and not taking any prisoners in the process.

Centre back- David May – “David May superstar, got more medals than Shear-er” While that particular United chant may be more renowned for its accuracy than its rhyming shortcomings, it is still heard occasionally at Old Trafford. May joined United from Blackburn in 1994 and many were left confused as to why Sir Alex Ferguson played him out of position at right back. A switch to centre back left a few fans confused as to why Fergie played him at all as May struggled in his new surroundings. May became a cult hero at Old Trafford by leading the celebrations following United’s ’99 treble winning triumph at the Nou Camp- he was an unused sub. There are some at Old Trafford who claim May was actually underrated and a fine defender but as someone who was a regular during his debut season through to his last, I’m inclined to disagree. May was at times abysmal which makes the fact that he won far more medals than Shearer that little bit funnier and helped assure his cult hero status.

Left midfield- Steve Morrow – Heard the one about the player who got his cup winners medal before the final? Morrow was the match winner in Arsenal‘s league cup final victory over Sheffield Wednesday, so what better way for Captain Tony Adams to reward the Northern Ireland international than by breaking his arm on the post match celebrations?! Morrow subsequently missed the FA cup final some weeks later due to his injury. Morrow may have missed that final but he didn’t miss the Cup Winner’s Cup final a year later, where playing in midfield he produced a real barnstorming display against a Parma team that contained the likes of Gianfranco Zola and’Tino Asprilla, as the Gunners lifted the trophy. Morrow could play in several positions but for this team he’s left midfield. Morrow is now back at Arsenal assisting the clubs international academies- no doubt warning youngsters of the perils of over-exuberant celebrations.

Right midfield – Benito Carbone – The little Italian could play in a variety of attacking positions and could arguably be in this team for up to three teams. He was something of a fans favourite at Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa and Bradford City. He amassed a staggering 17 clubs during his career and was accused of being troublesome for certain managers but the fans often loved him. Villa fans appreciated his help in their 2000 FA cup run, which included some memorable goals. Bradford fans found him a small measure of comfort in an otherwise depressing relegation season, Wednesday fans could boast two of the leagues best entertainers when he and Di Canio lined up together. You couldn’t bank on him sticking around but when he pulled on the shirt of your club he could de devastating.

Centre midfield – Steffen Freund– A cult hero is often not the greatest player on the pitch but he might just be the one who puts in the most effort. Freund was and still is a popular figure among many Spurs fans. He may not have had the skill of a Ginola, the finishing of a Sheringham or the timing of the tackle that Sol ‘dont mention his name to Spurs fans’ Campbell had but in some ways Freund was superior to all of them. A defensive midfielder who knew exactly what his job was, Freund was the sort of player you’d get fed up of playing against as he just would not stop harassing, tackling and making a general nuisance of himself to you. Spurs have had a lot of heroes over the years but Freund gains special place in many fans hearts due to playing the game with the sort of passion you’d see in the stands.

Centre midfield – Georgi Kinkladze – “And all the runs that Kinky makes are winding” sang the Manchester City faithful to the tune of Wonderwall during the Georgian’s time there. He may have been inconsistent and been part of the team that was relegated but on his day Kinkladze could be quite simply devastating. With a range of skills and low centre of gravity that was almost Maradona-esque the midfielder brought a smile to City fan’s faces before Arab Billions made them the force they are now. One goal against Southampton where Kinkladze seemed to take on the entire Saints defence polled second in the Match of the Day ‘Goal of the Season’ awards. If ‘Kinky’ had the sort of players City possess now around him, then the clubs wait for a trophy would already have been ended. A true cult hero, that even a few opposition fans- myself included- had to admire now and again.

Striker Diego Forlan– I’ve already written an extensive article praising the man ‘from Uruguay’ so I’ll keep it brief. He may not have scored many goals but his two at Anfield cemented his place in United fans hearts. Add to that last minute winners against Chelsea and Southampton- including the infamous playing with his shirt in his hand incident and its no wonder just more than a few United fans were glad to see him pick up the Golden Ball in the World Cup this year.

Striker Carl Leaburn– Carl who? Well let me tell you something I’ve always been proud of the fact that I did actually see Leaburn score once at Old Trafford in a cup game. The former Charlton striker was so inept at scoring he actually made Emile Heskey seem prolific. Charlton fans even had t-shirts with ‘I saw Leaburn score’ printed on them- apparently they didn’t sell many as there weren’t a lot of people who had. Leaburn was so poor he actually scored his third goal in his 100th game. Leaburn managed to win over fans by inexplicably bagging fifteen goals in one season. In 2004 he came third in a poll of Charlton fan’s ‘best player ever’ so you can’t ever accuse Addicks of lacking a sense of humour. Leaburn eventually moved on to Wimbledon where he helped the Dons on their way to relegation with an actually worse goal scoring record than he had at Charlton .

Subs bench: Bruce Grobbelaar, Shaun Goater, Vinnie Jones, Tony Yeboah, Peter Beagrie, Luis Boa Morte, Ali Dia

18
Aug
10

Five things we learnt from Man United’s victory

Berbatov- I always knew he'd come good...honest

Manchester United‘s fairly routine victory over newly-promoted Newcastle was hardly much of a surprise considering the gulf in class between the two teams. While Newcastle didn’t exactly roll over and die they hardly troubled last season’s title runners-up, so the question is what exactly did Monday’s night’s match tell us about Sir Alex Ferguson’s men? Scholes is still mint, Wazza’s not there yet, are just a couple of things that I noticed. Here’s a list of five things that the ‘return of Monday Night Football’ showed us about United.

1. There’s still life in the old guard. Paul Scholes produced the sort of passing masterclass that would have had Xavi tipping his hat in admiration. While his tackling is still diabolical- he recieved his almost olbigatory booking in the second half- the ginger one’s ability to pick out a killer ball is second to none. Scholes picked up from where he left off at the back end of last season, in fact it’s arguably where he’s actually been leaving off for the past 16 years, picking defences apart and dictating the pace of the game. When a commentator asked Fergie, if Scholes was actually getting better following his MOTM performance in the ‘Community’ Shield the United manager laughed: “We can dream”…..well maybe we can.
Scholes wasn’t the only member of the Old Trafford Dad’s Army to remind us of his class, Ryan Giggs’s small cameo was enough to add yet another feather to his bow this time in the form of extending his record of scoring in every season since the Premier league started- and a couple more before.
Surely rather than just United abolishing the number 11 shirt when Giggsy retires, the Premier League should also close down the competition as a mark of respect to the real-life version of Roy Race.

2. Wayne Rooney needs more games. It may sound like the opposite of what many have been saying over the past few months, but in reality Wazza looks short of match fitness rather than being tired. While he may have -accidentally- set up Darren Fletcher’s goal, Rooney’s passing, shooting and general play was far from what he’s capable of and the fact he’s now gone thirteen games for club and country without a goal, is one record the striker will not be looking to add to. Rooney also seems to be playing with less abandon, almost a little angrily- just ask Nani who was on the end of a rollicking for losing the ball rather than laying it off.
Being subbed is also something Rooney hates, even when he’s injured, but he may need a couple more 60-minuters to get him back in the swing of things- hopefully just in time for the visit of Liverpool in mid-september. It’s been a difficult time for last season’s PFA player of the year, and as soon as he can get settled back into his stride the sooner everyone -including me- can start drooling over him again- erm actually thats a scary thought, let’s just say ‘admiring him once more.’

3. Dimitar Berbatov is not a useless lazy b*stard. At some point almost every United fan has questioned whether Fergie needed his head testing for sticking with the Bulgarian, yet Monday night was an evening for those who defend him to point to as evidence of his value. Not only did Berbatov grab the opener but rumour has it he actually tracked back a few times as well, which almost caused several thousand simultaneous heart attacks inside Old Trafford. With Rooney not yet on top form United need someone to step up and its time for the Bulgarian to justify his manager’s faith.
The statement “There’s no questioning his ability” is one which almost exclusively is used as a pre-fix for every column devoted to United’s number nine but it’s true. Last night, despite a couple of wasteful efforts, Berbatov had the sort of game United need from him, keeping hold of the ball, passing it about nicely and getting on the scoresheet. While it wasn’t perfect it was a good start and if he continues the form he showed in pre-season and now United’s opener, then Berbatov may just silence his critics and make Fergie’s faith seem more than justified. Expect a lot of United fans to be claiming “I always knew he’d come good” if he does.

4. Javier Hernandez is not the second coming. Arguably the only shock of the evening was the fact that Chicharito didn’t get on the scoresheet. Despite looking lively and running his heart out, the Mexican’s 30 minutes on the Old Trafford pitch never really looked like producing a goal. Such was the hype surrounding Little Pea that almost every United fan- myself included- must’ve been expecting him to score within minutes. However he showed that while he’s obviously talented he is gonna need to time to get used to life in the Premiership, whether Fergie risks starting him in an upcoming game is doubtful, but with Rooney perhaps needing to be brought back to match fitness somewhat cautiously, Chicharito was may get a few more opportunities from the bench in the upcoming games. One things for certain regardles of whether he scores or not the crowd’s reaction to when he came onto the pitch shows that he’s certainly got the fans buzzing and hopefully the Solskjaer comparisons wont just stretch to getting I’D’d at the cinema.

5. The wings are rusty. While Rooney may not be anywhere near back to his usual best, the two wide men at times looked a little off the pace on Monday night with more than a few passes going astray. Although they were both still dangerous they weren’t at their best. While this hardly mattered against a Newcastle side that never truly got going, it would be a cause for concern against one of the top sides. Antonio Valencia’s showing in the ‘Community Sheild’ showed that he’s fit in physical terms and still a handful, but on Monday his control and distribution wasn’t quite up the high standards the superbly hair-styled one set last season. Nani was another player who didn’t quite look up to scratch, particularly considering that behind Scholes he was United’s best player at the back end of last season. While it’s hardly time to hit the panic button and submit that £45 mill bid for Frank Ribery, United need their wingers to be playing well this season if they’re to wrestle the title back from Stamford Bridge. A few more games should see both Nani and Valencia hitting top form- hopefully in time for the visit of a certain team from up the M62- or have I mentioned that already?

12
Aug
10

Ten Things United Must Do To Win Back ‘Our Trophy’

Will we be seeing scenes like this at OT come May?

Will we be seeing scenes like this at OT come May?

With last season’s title race going right down to the wire with Chelsea edging it over Manchester United by a single point every game counted towards the title. This summer has seen a distinct lack of major transfer activity from either club with Chelsea having something if a mini-exodus and bringing in only Yossi Banayoun, while United have made two additions, in Chris Smalling and a certain diminutive Mexican who’s already grabbed a few headlines with the most bizarre Wembley goal since Emile Heskey’s last one. The question is are the new signings enough to bring the trophy back to Old Trafford, just what do United need to do to wrestle the title back from West London and is Dimitar Berbatov ever going to revert back to his headband? Here’s a list of ten things which need to happen for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men to overtake Liverpool in the title winning stakes.

1. More goals from midfield. While many a United fan is quick to point out the deficiencies of Berbatov and even Ferguson has lamented the injury to Michael Owen that robbed United of his services for the business end of the season, the fact remains the midfield did not score nearly enough goals last season. Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Antonio Valencia, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nani managed 24 league goals between them, the same amount that Frank Lampard scored. While certain players –Fletcher for example- are not in the side to score goals, while Giggs and Scholes can hardly be expected to hit double figures at their age- it is still obvious United need more goals coming from the midfield department. If Rooney continues to operate as a lone striker –as he did for much of last season- then someone behind him needs to step up. Personally I’d like to see Nani and Valencia weighing in with a few more this time round.

2. A bit more stability in the starting XI. I fully understand that with United chasing honours on four fronts, the need for a large squad and a bit of rotation but surely it’s time for a little moderation. It seems every week there’s a new right back, its 4-5-1 then it’s 4-4-2, Berbatov starts, grabs a goal, then is dropped for the next game, Anderson’s in, then he’s out again, ditto Ji Sung Park. Admittedly injuries and the ages of certain players have to dictate Fergie’s thinking and the days of the man on the street naming the Saturday’s starting XI are long gone. However it could be time to give some players more than just one game in every three, and try and get a bit more cohesion going between certain ones. I’ve said it before and it may sound crazy but unless Rio Ferdinand can get back to proper full fitness, I’d make Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic my starting centre backs for every game. Stability has often been the key to United’s success and maybe a bit more is needed.

3. Give youth a chance. With Tom Cleverly not going out on loan, and the Da Silva twins and Macheda getting a chance both at the end of last season and in this pre-season then could we now see a few youngsters starting more than just the Carling Cup games? Hopefully yes. If United are not going to buy Mesut Ozil- to be honest I don’t think they will- then why not give either Darron Gibson or Cleverly the chance to have a run in the side. After all despite what a certain Scottish pundit may have claimed you can win things with kids. United have bags of experience in every department so throwing one or two youngsters into the mix shouldn’t lead to disaster and what better way for a developing player to learn than to play alongside the likes of Scholes, Giggs or Rooney.

4. Darren Fletcher to raise his game. At first this may seem blasphemous, after all ‘super Daz’ was one of United’s best performers last season, putting in the sort of barnstorming displays you’d associate with Roy Keane. However the reason I think he should raise his game is simple- because he can. While there’s no denying against the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, Fletcher bosses the midfield so much he even had Arsene Wenger complaining of his ‘anti-football’- so basically tackling people then- but against lesser opposition Fletcher can occasionally be a little less influential. I know it seems harsh to criticise such a dedicated player but let’s be brutally honest, there are times when his passing can go awry a little too often, and despite what I said earlier about him not being in the side to score goals that doesn’t mean he can’t. His brace against City and his superb volley – or should that be superlative strike- in the home game against Everton show that Fletcher knows where the goal is. I know he’s quality I just feel that if he were to perform against the likes of Sunderland as he does against the top teams, he could well be the difference between second and first.

5. Michael Carrick. This one doesn’t need a Fletcher-type apology or explanation, it’s shockingly simple. He’s got to start performing consistently. Carrick’s been at Old Trafford for four seasons now yet amazingly the jury still seems to be out on him. Three title winning campaigns would be enough to put most players in the pantheon of club legends but Carrick has a knack for going missing when he’s needed most and sometimes making costly errors. The games against Wolves away and Liverpool and Bayern Munich at home were cases in point. While Carrick’s mistakes in the first two may have been academic his failure to deal with the danger in the Champion’s League, then getting caught dilly-dallying on the ball, cost United two goals, and to some critics the tie. While I think there was more to it than just Carrick, the fact that he was dropped from the United side after his similar blunder gifted Liverpool an early Old Trafford lead, may mean that Fergie is running out of patience with a player who should now be hitting his peak not going backwards. If he doesn’t perform well at the beginning of the campaign, I feel it’s time to give someone else a chance.

6. Beat their title rivals. Ok this may sound like the sort of obvious statement you would associate with David Pleat but it’s true. The past two seasons have seen United lose home and away to their nearest rivals. In 2008-09 they got away with it mainly due the fact that by the time Liverpool came to Old Trafford and won 4-1, the title race was all but over. Last season however, even a draw in either game against Chelsea would have been enough to see United win the title for a record breaking nineteenth time but it wasn’t to be. United have usually performed well against their title rivals and there’s no doubt that a man has proud as Ferguson will be looking to regain that tradition this season. Winning against your rivals doesn’t just give you a points advantage it can often help psychologically convince you that you’re the better team and it’s time United took the edge on both counts.

7. Believe the hype and give Chicharito a proper run. I’ve tried not to get over excited about Javier Hernandez, but it’s been about as difficult as liking Ashley Cole as the ‘Little Pea’ shone in both the World Cup and United’s pre-season. Whether he’s banging in screamers against Argentina or using his teeth in the Community Shield, it’s obvious that he’s class and rather than wrapping him up in cotton wool or saving him for special occasions like the nice china, Fergie should unleash him and let him stake a claim for a regular starting place. He’s been compared to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, which is a bit unfair, but if he is going to be another ‘baby-faced assassin’ then he should at the very least be an obligatory substitute coming on after 60 minutes in every game.

8. Improve the atmosphere at Old Trafford. Whether United have money or not chanting and singing is still free- mind you give it time and they’ll probably charge us- so there’s no excuses for having a lack of noise at Old Trafford. United still have the highest attendance in the League, yet at times away fans of a mere few thousand are out-singing 70-odd thousand Reds. ‘We want Glazers out’ is one chant that seems to be heard without any problems but it’s hardly likely to motivate the team. While I’m not saying that shouldn’t be sung, I’m merely stating that the fact remains personally I’ve been a bit embarrassed by the lack of atmosphere at OT at times and think a bit more noise wouldn’t go amiss. United may have only dropped eight home points last season, but if they can get the sort of atmosphere you hear against City going every week, then there’s every reason to feel they won’t drop any. This isn’t something the club should be culpable for, it’s up to the fans and don’t worry I’ve brought plenty of vuvuzelas back from South Africa so message me and I’ll send you one.

9. Take the burden off Wayne Rooney. Sounds simple doesn’t it? It’s a bit like saying score more goals than the opposition or win more games than your nearest rivals, but the fact is, United cannot win the title with Rooney alone. When Cristiano Ronaldo was scoring goals like they were going out of fashion, a large part of that was down to Rooney. Last season Didier Drogba had Lampard to help him out, Arsenal will no doubt have Robin Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas this time round. Rooney needs someone to weigh in with not just their fair share of goals but also assists and being another option that players look for when United are attacking. Berbatov, Hernandez or one of the midfield, it doesn’t matter but when Rooney’s fit and playing it shouldn’t mean that if he has a quiet game so do United. When Rooney’s out, it’s time for someone else to perform; no doubt all eyes will be on Berbatov who came up short against Chelsea and Blackburn last season. Whether or not this will be the Bulgarian’s season remains to be seen, but someone needs to give ‘r Wazza a hand.

10. Play Edwin Van Der Sar in every league game. VDS performance in the Community Shield was yet another in a long list of exemplary shifts between the sticks at Old Trafford. The Dutchman was injured for the beginning of last season and Ben Foster was preferred to Tomas Kuszczak and all but ended both his United and England career with a series of inept displays. A loss away to Burnley and a disappointing home draw to Sunderland came on Foster’s watch, while Kuszczak oversaw the home loss to Aston Villa and the away loss to Fulham- although to be fair the entire defence was injured for that one. Van Der Sar may be 40 but if he can manage the league games and Fergie rests him for the cup ones, he may just be the difference between another near-miss or making United the most successful ever team-at least domestically- in England.